Evolutionary Concepts

Evolution: Education and Outreach

, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 156-175

First online:

Understanding Natural Selection: Essential Concepts and Common Misconceptions

  • T. Ryan GregoryAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph Email author 

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Natural selection is one of the central mechanisms of evolutionary change and is the process responsible for the evolution of adaptive features. Without a working knowledge of natural selection, it is impossible to understand how or why living things have come to exhibit their diversity and complexity. An understanding of natural selection also is becoming increasingly relevant in practical contexts, including medicine, agriculture, and resource management. Unfortunately, studies indicate that natural selection is generally very poorly understood, even among many individuals with postsecondary biological education. This paper provides an overview of the basic process of natural selection, discusses the extent and possible causes of misunderstandings of the process, and presents a review of the most common misconceptions that must be corrected before a functional understanding of natural selection and adaptive evolution can be achieved.


Adaptation Darwin Evolution Fitness Mutation Population Variation